Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interviewed: Jerry Tavin, Young Photographers Alliance Co-Founder

Two hands reach for each other through a dramatic sky with the sun positioned behind in an image about connection, teamwork and offering a helping hand.
Young Photographers Alliance offers a helping hand to emerging photographers.

You have a long history in the photography business. Can you share with us some highlights of your photography career?
I founded a company called nonstock with Janou Pakter, who was also my co-partner in Janou Pakter, Inc., a prestigious, worldwide recruitment agency based in New York. Our involvement with worldwide design and advertising agencies, as well as with photographers, was the catalyst for the creation of nonstock.  At the time, the name and the idea behind the name were not readily accepted by the stock photo industry. We chose to take a different road than most traditional stock companies. We edited the work of well-known and emerging photographers, which was, at that time, closely edited rights-managed images. Nonstock was highly successful in its approach and soon became a model for many other stock agencies.  Another highlight of my career was receiving the ASPP Photography Professional of the Year award in 2008, which made me extremely proud, as this was an award voted by my industry peers.

Additionally, in April 2009, I founded the Young Photographers Alliance with Deborah Free, Edward Leigh and Janou Pakter, which is an educational foundation providing scholarships, internships, mentorships and business education to deserving and talented young photographers worldwide.

Finally, as co-partner with Spencer Jones of Glasshouse Images, we continue to follow the path of high-quality and creative stock photography.

What led you to become a Founder of YPA?
My association with young photographers through the years was always important and exciting to me. Their obstacles and difficulties in getting a foothold in the industry were always part of our discussions. It was natural for me after much success to want to do something to help them in any way. At this point, in my career, it was an important time for me to start a foundation which would achieve those goals.

Can you bring us up to speed on YPA?
We have awarded 11 scholarships to date, in addition to completing our first mentoring program, Answering Adversity, which was generously funded by the ASMP foundation. This program includes 12 mentors and 38 mentees in 11 cities in the US, Canada and UK. We recently exhibited our full program, which includes 114 prints and accompanying student essays, at the Calumet Gallery in New York City. We are currently exploring new initiatives for our scholarship, and mentoring programs for 2011 and beyond. We have an active website and Facebook at: that updates our progress.

What are some of the problems facing beginning photographers today that YPA is helping with?
In our focus groups with young photography students, they indicated that their lack of strong business knowledge was an obstacle. They also did not have networking opportunities with business professionals. They needed financial support and additional educational opportunities for their growth. Basically, it is a question of guidance and support in order to sustain their careers, which is our foundation’s mission.

How exactly does YPA help young photographers?
We help young photographers with financial support through our scholarship programs, with networking opportunities via our mentors and other experienced professionals in the field. We offer one-on-one guidance through the review of their portfolios. Many of our scholarship winners and our mentees remain involved with YPA as committee members and volunteers. Hopefully, they will become mentors to the next generation of young photographers. We hope to implement internships and business education programs in the future. And provide a global network of opportunities for emerging artists. 

How can individual photographers best contribute to YPA?
Individual photographers can best contribute to YPA by becoming members of YPA. They can directly contribute to future educational programs. They can provide images for our silent and online auctions, as these funds go directly to YPA programs. They can join our database of mentors, so that we may call upon them to provide leadership and guidance in future mentoring programs. They can provide internships and they can volunteer their services in many different ways to YPA. Each year prestigious photographers present the awards to our scholarships winners at our October event. Many photographers can assist in our future internship programs and educational seminars.

Do you believe that on a practical level helping aspiring photographers will also benefit established pros as well and how?
Most photographers know how difficult it was to get opportunities in our industry when they started out. They know that having support may have changed or accelerated their goals and careers. In many cases, this support kept them in their careers. We want to sustain young photographers in our industry. How can you keep an industry moving forward and remaining relevant without the help and support of the young photographers? Established photographers will certainly benefit from their fresh creativity and the perpetuation of our art through their support of aspiring artists.

There are doubtless pros out there that wonder "why bother?" when our industry appears headed for doom anyway.  What would you say to them?
“Doom and gloom” have been words used to describe our industry for the longest times. And every creative field echoes the same sentiment. We have been and still are a huge financial industry in all areas of photography and we will continue. I believe that photography, as an art form, will never die. As technology advances in our industry, new opportunities are being created. More people enjoy photography and more institutions display photography. As for all creative fields, it is a difficult road, but we should be optimistic that we are in such a great profession. Our artists should remain enthusiastic and optimistic because they are doing what they love, which to is the essence of life.

What is currently the biggest need or challenge that YPA has?
As with many foundations during these difficult economic times, we need financial support. We need sponsors who are as passionate as we are about photography and about its artists. Without financial support and in-kind services, grassroots foundations cannot survive. Of course, our existence depends on funding in order to maintain significant programs.

Does YPA cover all the various sub categories of photography including everything from events to advertising to stock (too many to list here!)?
It is YPA's goal to encourage young photographers to explore all opportunities within the industry that would include all the subcategories of photography. Our education programs will include relevant information on all facets of our industry. We try to be relevant and coordinate activities with all the different areas of our industry that involve professional expertise for young photographers.

How would you answer the objection that there are already too many photographers and too few opportunities?
We have to encourage the young talent to pursue their dreams and goals within our industry, as it is these young photographers who will create new business opportunities and re-invent our industry. Can you ever have too many creative people in any creative field? Are there too many dancers, too many fine artists, too many musicians, too many actors? Well, there are certainly not too many photographers.

How has the response to YPA been in the photographic community?
The response has been incredible during our short tenure. There has been great voluntary support from many segments of the industry, as well as some much needed donations, especially support of our mentoring program through the ASMP foundation. While we still need funding to succeed, we are encouraged by the overwhelming support of the international community to our goals. This enthusiasm has really kept us going for the past two years.

Who are some of the Organizations that are sponsoring YPA?
Organizations such as APA, ASMP, ASPP, BAPLA, CEPIC, PACA, SPE, have been extremely supportive of YPA, as well as companies such as Alamy and Photolibrary have been equally as supportive, but we would certainly welcome many more organizations and companies in support of our goals.

Can you share any anecdotes about how YPA has helped young shooters?
Our anecdotes are in the dozens of letters from young artists, scholarship winners and mentees that have talked about their experiences and thanked YPA for its support. Our website has a few of the testimonials, which are quite uplifting and rewarding. Our focus groups of young photographers provide us with great insights, and sometimes great laughs, into what their needs and their desires consist of. We have some prestigious photographers internships and the mentees work on the program has yielded some interesting anecdotal stories.

How are you getting the word out to young photographers, and how can they approach YPA for assistance?
We reach out to many schools regarding our scholarships and mentoring programs. Students can find us on various social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as relevant blogs. We also have reached out to students via advertising, public relations efforts and through our website. Our advisory board is also doing great outreach. Also, SPE has greatly helped with our outreach program. Developing future programs to connect with young photographers is one of our priorities.

You have had a long and varied career in photography. What have you learned over the years that would be important for young photographers to know?
I've told my photographers to "follow your heart", if you persist in doing the things you love, and try to endure through the difficulties and challenges, the personal rewards are wonderful. Setting an example of giving back something to their profession can help make their lives more interesting and more exciting. As a photographer, you can make a substantial different in enriching the lives of other people. Your work is meaningful, your art is monumental and you are important in your contributions to society. Photography is a special art form.  Those who are blessed with that talent should count themselves as being fortunate.

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